5G’s Impact on the Mission Critical Market
No new technology in recent years has created as much excitement as 5G. The 5G transition is under way and will bring faster and denser data streams, increasing the demand for more data center capacity. Speeds as high as 10 gigabits per second, with a latency (delay) less than five milliseconds, are expected with 5G, once fully in place.
With claimed speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G, 5G promises much higher bandwidth and significantly increased connection density compared with the current fastest network. The faster connections and lower latency will revolutionize the IT and communication functions for every business.
However, switching to 5G will not be quick or easy. The full rollout could take up to 15 years because the new infrastructure required to support 5G is complex, expensive, and still being developed. Estimates vary, but most experts agree that telecom companies will need to spend $1 trillion to upgrade their existing 4G networks.
“It will take some time for device manufacturers to roll out devices for 5G, and for consumers to purchase them,” says Michael DeVito, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Iron Mountain Data Centers. “It will be a few years until we see a heavy impact on the data center market. But, that avalanche of demand will eventually come—some say by 2022—and it will bring denser and faster streams of data, which will drive demand for more data center capacity.”
Benefits of 5G
The biggest benefit of 5G, of course, is speed. The faster speed and lower latency of 5G will have huge impacts to Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, including wireless connectivity, machine-to-machine communications, artificial intelligence, gaming, virtual and augmented reality, and video streaming.
Overall, companies are most interested in 5G to improve their operational efficiencies. For example, a Gartner survey indicated that nearly two-thirds of respondents reported that their main interest in 5G was to drive IoT communications.
According to Power and Beyond, 5G will create opportunities for more innovative IoT schemes, “with rich arrays of sensors whose data can be combined for more sophisticated insights into application status. The low latency will also enable haptic applications like remote surgery that were previously impossible due to the delay between a surgeon’s hand movement and the remote actuator response. It will be equally critical with the advent of driverless cars, as instant control responses are essential for timely reactions to road conditions.”
Making It Happen
Data centers that already operate on 4G can still handle 5G data—however, they will have to adapt their systems for 5G frequencies. 5G uses super-high frequencies, which will only work if devices are close to antennas, rather than large cell towers. This will require the construction of new transmission infrastructure, including more cell towers and tens of thousands of antennas (also known as small cells) that can be deployed on utility poles and other urban infrastructure. In some cases, micro data centers might even be deployed at the base of cell towers, allowing limited data processing for local populations and businesses. 5G will also require a massive amount of new fiber deployment.
Much of the increased IT infrastructure spending will be aimed at moving IT services to these smaller cells. The sheer amount of data being transmitted in a 5G world will be prohibitively costly with today’s traditional centralized networks. “By moving IT to the edge and reducing the distance to the user, lower latency can be ensured, costs can be reduced, and security can be improved,” states Sunbird Software.
“What this means is there could be many smaller data centers, distributed geographically in such a way that’s going to make them a little bit more difficult to manage,” adds Jamie Birdnow, vice president of advanced and core technologies for cloud and hyperscale solutions for CommScope. “Connectivity will be important in terms of how we do that.”
Future Challenges Abound
Many of the economic and technical drivers behind 5G have not yet matured. “Before 5G can truly take off, many regulatory, spectrum licensing, infrastructure, and security issues must be resolved,” says Amber Caramella, chief revenue officer for Netrality Data Centers. “5G will therefore be deployed over a number of years, spreading more and more as updates to infrastructure are funded and completed, and regulations across the world are modernized.”
Staffing challenges are also expected. As more data centers are constructed, staffing them will be more difficult because the talent pool of candidates with 5G experience will be limited. “Since transferring technicians from 4G projects to work on 5G buildouts could have negative effects, it is important to begin recruiting and training new employees to focus specifically on the 5G rollout,” states Sunbird Software.
With President Joe Biden’s recently proposed massive infrastructure bill, the timing for the 5G rollout could not be better. The bill allocates $100 billion to expand broadband internet access, especially in more rural areas. These investments will accelerate expanding fiber networks and building data centers, especially smaller ones in more regional areas.
The first major impact of the 5G rollout will be the movement of massive amounts of data through faster and virtualized networking and wireless infrastructure. “In order to create a seamless and invisible wireless network that connects all devices and applications with those devices, data center and colocation providers will need to develop centers of data exchange where data can be transferred, stored and processed close to the end users,” says Chris Sharp, chief technology officer for Digital Realty. “Data centers will be at the heart of enabling 5G in all applications for the foreseeable future.”